In the autotransformer the primary and secondary windings are joined together, with part of the winding belonging to both primary and secondary, and are wound on a single "leg" of laminated core. The autotransformer uses the principle of self-induction.
Autotransformers find popular use in applications requiring a slight boost or reduction in voltage to a load. The alternative with a normal (isolated) transformer would be to either have just the right primary/secondary winding ratio made for the job or use a step-down configuration with the secondary winding connected in series-aiding ("boosting") or series-opposing ("bucking") fashion. Primary, secondary, and load voltages are given to illustrate how this would work.
In the "boosting" configuration. Here, the secondary coil's polarity is oriented so that its voltage directly adds to the primary voltage:
Next, the "bucking" configuration. Here, the secondary coil's polarity is oriented so that its voltage directly subtracts from the primary voltage:
The prime advantage of an autotransformer is that the same boosting or bucking function is obtained with only a single winding, making it cheaper and lighter to manufacture than a regular (isolating) transformer having both primary and secondary windings.